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Unapologetically Canadian
Unapologetically Canadian

Episode 48 · 1 year ago

Farming for the Future with Ramzy Kassouf

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This week, I interview Ramzy Kassouf, one of the partners in Les Jardins Carya, a farm in Senneville, on the island of Montreal. Les Jardins Carya specializes in lettuce, kale, spinach, sprouts and other greens. Ramzy and I spoke about the importance and challenges of sustainable farming, the need to support one another during hard times and Canada's diversity. 

My name is Tracy Ariel and I am an apologetically Canadian. Today we are speaking with rams because if he is the founder and operator of a lejeldn cafer farm, an urban farm in Montreal. How are you doing, Ramzy? I'm doing fine. We're wrapping up the season for the incredible two thousand and twenty farming season and just like starting this with you and not watching the first flakes of snow and coming on the farm now. So and we're undering a new face, but I am doing exceptionally fine. Thank you. Yeah, yeah, the snow is a little unusual here in November. We're in as we're recording this, it's mid November. This probably won't play until December when there will plenty of snow around, but we just had temperatures of last week with twelve, fifteen degrees and now we're down to snow. So it's been a very weird sort of autumn. So can you talk a little bit about how two thousand and twenty has been? Well, first of all, actually let's talk about your farm and because you've been around for a while now, it's totally an organic farm. Can you just describe a little bit about how you started it. Yeah, this is our ten anniversary. Actually we started in two thousand and ten. I have this property in the West Island of Montreal and almost like since one thousand nine hundred and ninety six, and I activated the agriculture project in two thousand and eight and after that I decided to in turn on a farm where my present business partner, Alex Florence, who who was working at that farm, and and I did an immersion and learning about agriculture. And then two thousand and ten, Alex and me and another lady by name really Monday founded leasavan carrier and the rest is history. You talk a little bit about some of the operations? I mean I know that you have some amazing Greens, that you're sort of known for the quality of Your Greens. Yeah, yeah, it's you know, we put in our vision, like it's only one sentence, is we decided to grow high quality food for our local community at an affordable price. So that was the intention and the vision started in two thousand and ten and we really we have, you know, like grown to be specialized in salads and we talked about a little bit about like me, a Ugula, the spin and a lot of varieties of Michael Green as well, and we grew another twenty, two thirty crops additional for our farmers market in Sant and above. You that for the last ten years we never missed a Saturday and we have a big Cley ontwell in the West Island and we've been serving them and the relationship became like very much our clients and our community, you know, like they want to see us in Sant and and and and it's almost vice versa. So we really have grown into a community that brings food on a local our local community on a week a week in, week out. Yeah, and I mean I know you because you've been delivering Greens and Mushrooms to the for done farmers market. Yeah, the mushroom prize is a price. Is a partnership with Madi Sad that just started this year. So do you partner with other with other growers? Yeah, so what happened is like the pandemic, when it happened ...

...marsh thirteen, when the world stopped. We lost all our restaurant clients, you know, we farmers market shut down as well. So we shifted and pivoted towards making basket to for home delivery like March fifteen to June seventeen, and and Medicaid, like we met. I've known Andrew for a while from the year before and I know how beautiful his products are. So we launched what we call like like the solid deity baskets, where we developing a network of farmers around mantreal that, like, we can join forces and since carrier has been delivering like almost three times a week to wholesale clients and the Court of Montreal. So the addition of Medicaid and amazing product like, I mean the mushroom that you tried, tracy, it's, it's been a very welcome addition to our basket. Yeah, they were. I mean they're Chantrell's were particularly popular this summer and but they have some fabulous Shattacki and playacts as well and some other varieties. I think they have six varieties all together and combined with some of Your Greens, I mean talk about a great salad. That's right now. I was also luckily enough to visit your operations this summer and I got to see some of the unique ways that you produced, because one of the things that's interesting about your salad's, even when you order them in both because we do. They've already been rinstant and dried, and I noticed that you use that. You have a cool Bot operated fridge, which is basically a building with an air conditioner that ends with a special little device called the cool but to make a fridge, and you have dryers, like washing machine type dryers, in order to spin the to spin this outlets tell me a little bit about the the innovation that can be some of the I'm sure that you didn't come up with all that stuff the first year. Yeah, no, no reel, just spin it by hand. And you know, when we started, like we had like this small spinner that we put like one kilo at a time and we spin it and dry it and and try to package it after. But we yeah, we've grown really nicely and really it's an effort that I can mention between brackets here that, like the new way of farming is, I don't want to farm a long it's very complex, it's very hard and it's like lots of energy need to be put in. So we have an amazing team at carrier that, like this year we had about almost nineteen employees and they were amazing team that you can make anything and innovate and bring new ideas and like like and keep keep metamorphosing into a different farm. So carrier has been reinvented almost every year. So we never I mean we look back ten years ago and we will what we are now. Here like definitely. The only thing that remains constant is the vision which we were determined and persevere to grow food local, look like, high quality food for our local community at an affordable price. So we were, we are part of a cooperative. It's called the Cape, you know, and it's cooperate, sive, agree, cool, the ECO, ecologic, the proximity, and this is like a a group more of almost three hundred to five hundred farms, you know, like the Boloco is part of them as well, and we are one of the founding member of this co OP,...

...and they do a lot of innovative things and we shared knowledge about how to improve the efficiency of the operation of the farm. So we managed to like to try a lot of things, and one of them is this, like the transforming a dryer, you know, dry your close in it, like the spinner, and to remove the the basin and we put a new like a vegetable spinner and and it spends like five kilos at a time and before we do the the spinning, we have a big bubblers, almost like a Trikoozi like, where we get the the Greens as soon as you harvest them in the field, you know, like they they just've been like in the growing phase and they definitely need to have a cold water shock, so we shock them right away. So that's gives them an amazing rest the growth in it and it's really like almost keep them very, very fresh when you spend them to dry and you keep them in a cold room for twenty four hours and they can have a life shehell for to night. So we've been very successful in creating as well, like our own mess clane grown in house at the farm, which is six heads of lettuce that we harvest one by one and we wash it, spin it, dry it and deliberate almost almost like three times a week, and we do like a Rugula and spinish and spicy mix which roughly like. We're very happy that now we are doing between five hundred to eight hundred kilo a week and Greens and we supply a lot of wholesale and a lot of our farmers market and other food bank that we deal with in one of them is the R farmers market. And what about the can talk a little bit about the Greens. How is that come along? I mean our tune in the new greenhouse at now? Yeah, so, like you're talking about the existing greenhouses on the farm or the other project that will working out that you have a new project? Yeah, you to extend that. So start with talking about the existing way that you're doing Greens and then the vision for the future. Yeah. So what we do is like in Canada, like, which is a climate which is cold. We know that, like the summer to short. So we have cot like like we were conscious of extending the season and there's a lot of research has been done through the Co op and other farmers and especially like we were very close to Nofa, which is the Vermont, like you know, and in New England Farmers Market and association there. Yeah, exactly the Vermont. We almost want every year for those conferences of learning how to extend the season. So in Canada we it's applicable to us to grow cold loving crops from the end of February till May when this whether it's warms up and we can go outside. So so we have about seven greenhouses now and we use them like the three months beginning of the year, like from February to May, and we use it what we call at the shoulder month of the year, like from September till December fifteen. So these are given us like a lot of capacity and extend our season and we bring a lot of salad, like we still harvesting now. Tonight is going to be seven. We we cover them at night with the Heat Matt you like. It's like almost like a bash of ternal cover so they can resist a cold at night. And that's been a great success for also very happy with it, and we still supplying grocery stores something, even with Salad. I just did a delivery today for a few clients.

The new project is the microgreen is becoming like a big growth venture for us and the size of growing it here at the farm is like we we're not we don't have the we're not equipped for it. So so we rented locale and the in Kirkland there for almost two tho one hundred square feet. Thus feel building. It's on Highness and we were launching that project next Monday and that will be a place specifically designed to grow microgreen sprouts and fine herbs at the microgreen level, you know, like it's still growing in soil because we're certified organic and it's not hyperponic and it's vertical and it's going to be like have a lot of capacity to run it all year long. So so we're very excited, like by using that vest facility all your long, so to launch now winter basket. That is going to happen the first delivery on December, second and burn in ver down in December, third in the West Island. Yeah, I'm really excited about that. I think it's a great project and but I mean it's got to be tough because you know, that means more rent for per year in some more capacity for longer. So as a small business person they know this is not easy to to sustain. Can you talk a little bit about some of the challenges that you've succeeded in, you know, because, as they say, entrepreneurial ship is never straightforward. There's always ups and downs. Can you talk a little bit about some of the challenges that you've managed to bypass in the in your ten years? Well, there's definitely like agriculture at the small scale and small farms, you know, like we want to like always like when we learn, and I entered the other culture venture with Alex and other farmers. It's like we grow everything, so like to grow everything. is like highly diversified and it's really kind of like looks not entrepreneur and running businesses for profit, you know, like to pay salary and nice wages and have a good living for the farmers. It was a big challenge and we could never meet it and I examine all the models of how to get a business model in farming where we can actually have a decent salary, way just to our staff and to ourself and and be successful. So so that was like the first five years was like a lot of fine tuning and the lesson learned from this is like the you need to specialize as a farm and too few product like and grow, grow them well and and they can be we can scale them, you know, as well. So this is something that we realized and for the diversity is by doing the development of a network of other farmers that they joined to us, so we can have farms that they are specialized in and Greens and microgreens and tomatoes and we can have other farms as well, like they are in the same network that we are, like they grow mushrooms. We have another farm that they grow root crops. So the diversification happens by more farmers getting together and get their act together and they can complement their offer to their client. And really the objective is to always to pay the farmers first, you know, like so, so this is this kind of model is really now it's...

...paying off for us after testing it at many levels and fine unit and and I recommend so much, like you really need to specialize at the same time keep the hype diversity by connecting with other farmers where you need to get the marketing lesson here is huge, like ship on time to clients and try to have a consistent product week in, week out. And that carrier has invested heavily into making like a three deliveries a week for our own institutional client. So so really it's still like work in progress and we would like to get it even point tune more. And now the scaling. We know that we can grow it and now we see we can scale it and we have all the natural farmers. So we have a model. If you can go on our website and see that vision that Owen rat like wholesale to our institutional client, any Montreal region, you know, like it's it's like really farm and organizing themselves in the way that we don't have to. Like. I mean there's like our client don't use a middleman, because the middleman always was the problem. Even on the retail side. When we do the farmer markets, we go directly to the consumer, but now we want to go to the acted to the institution by farmers, from farmers, and all the marketing happened by the farmers themselves, and that very good accessing. The price will go down because we eliminating so many so many intermediateary in that really ate a lot and chip away on our profitability. So now we can even enjoy a little bit better mudgeon than we used to do before. Right. Well, and the problem in Canada, I mean so much of the far food system is institutionalized and in a very grand scale, which means that people are used to paying less for food than is actually sustainable for farmers. So I think your experiments have been really helpful and in trying to turn that around, because people need to pay decent you need to pay enough for your food so that people can grow it fairly exactly. That's a big that is a big challenge. I mean it and it it takes ten years. I mean, people don't realize that in the farming community ten years is a startup. You know, most companies they say five years, but with the with agriculture, it's really a ten year startup zone. You know, you're really just getting into your own right now. We're just learned it. Now, we're getting a little bit better understanding and you're right. Is that the covid nineteen, you know, like is really I mean that's the silver lining, if you want. That made purchasing of locally and and connecting with your local farm arms or any of what we call the local economy. That really wasn't evident and wasn't that clear to many of our community and like other members who are not joining the like the community of buying locally. But now we can see it. It's happening. I never saw it like this. It's really people wants to eat local and the threat globally of inventory could be disrupted by a pandemic like what we had and we still having, is like inventory in Montreal can be depleted in forty days, like we cannot really plenish it. So government, I realizing that, municipality of realizing that, and the consumer I realizing that. So, which is some kind of like like we call it a silver lining. So it's positive for for our cars. Yeah, well, that, I mean that's brings up to another big challenge. This year has been quite a challenge just to keep operating and making sure that people got food safely. Exactly. So it's been and can you can you talk about Oh, I...

...actually I didn't. I Eric would never forgive me if I didn't talk about your kitchen projects. Yeah, actually starting to transform food to which is a brand new project. Yeah, two years ago, like, I mean like addic used to come with Hanson is one of our partner now and and lej other Keya became an inc operation this year and we'll really open it to more shareholders and we want to increase the ownership by employees and going forward, and Eric was one of the example to bring a lot on the table in terms of eliminating waste and like use everything that we produce on the farm to transform into freshly baked product, you know, and in the Transformation Department here and Kenson is our chef and and he's been instrumental. So we was a like was a great success by introducing the Veggie PATH TAB is here, Veggie Burger, and we did the soups and Salsa and we are working on other product as well, another project. So that was a great success. Is something new. We wanted to work on what we call it like a clean fast food, if you want, like that respect the economy, the environment, respect like you, no waste, no way waste, and affordable prices to buy, like a quick meal prepared high quality, locally produced and that at an affordable price. And every Hanson is like it's is one of these like occupation. Now to develop that. But we shill. We postponed the launching a little bit because of the Covid nineteen, because you have a lot of experience and restaurant and how do we redefine the dining experience to be affordable to all the population, to all our community? Yeah, I'm sure once things go pen up, I mean Montreal is still in a red zone, so things have been very challenging this year, but once things open up, I'm sure that that will be another growth project for you. We you know, I we sold quite a bit of the Pesto and I know that people will be interested in seeing what other products are available. Yeah, and that leads me on to my next question, because you've got you've talked about collaboration, you've talked about challenges, you've talked about successes and growth. Can you on and and you know this is a podcast about Canadian identity, so I can talk a little bit about your identity as a Canadian and and how you feel about that and what it means to you? Yeah, it's, you know, like it's it's you know, you mentioned at the beginning, before I touch on the identity, about the collaboration and and these this word of cooperating together. It's added to it innovation, you know. So these two words, which is our the Wae ch word for US post covid nineteen, are any any small farm or business or any community at any like, even families and connection. If they don't work on cooperation and innovation and they comprehend that, comprehend that it's not business as usual, they will be very difficult to succeed, to survive. So we really need this kind of cooperation and we really need to think of like not only outside the box, like almost thinking in a new box how to bring food directly to our community. And and that, for me, is we're talking about identity now and, you know, like it's like everything happens, you know, like want to develop culture...

...and develop identity and develop connection and sense of belonging, you know, like it's happens always around food. So we're lucky that we were engaged in that and in our community and producing food. And personally, I you know, like I came from Lebanon in one thousand nine hundred and seventy six, you know, like and I connected here with the Quebec you know, at an early young age, you know, and I feel like, you know, like I really belong and I very lucky to be a Canadian quebecers, you know, like from from other origin that came to Canada. So I feel like this unity that exists in Canada and respecting diversity of each one of us, it defines us as an as a country. And, you know, and I'm really like get, you know, three kids. They all born here and they you know, like like we are, and every time they come to the farm I feel like your connection and and understanding our identity is to connect to to the soil, you know, and the soil is been historically the place where community developed, culture develop and we're lucky that we have so much land. And my dream to enhance this understanding of identity is to convert our soil that exists, specially here in Quebec, like ninety percent of our soil we grow only on a tree crops. That will be like, will be a major like if in Canada and in Quebec and the government put some kind of like a long term plan to convert those land to grow more diverse food for our for our community. And the three crop that we only grow, and Quebec here is ninety percent of our soil, is the hey soya. And and what is the other one? Hey Soya, and my niece, you know, like Oh corn. Yeah, so the more we connect to the soil and the more we diversify the soil, and I don't want to talk about like sustainability anymore. I'm going to talk about reciprocity. So, all right, so there is a lovely word. Yeah, so the reciprocity is like what we can give to the soil and to the earth and it gives us back, but at the same time we always need to reciprocate back to her, because we're losing our soil and then we're losing our like growing medium and that will threaten our identity. So so, finally, like I'm I'm happy you ask that question in your podcast talking about the Canadian identity. Our Canadian identity is threatened if we don't protect our earth and we don't protect our environment and we don't protect our high quality of food, you know, and that's that's my end. My opinion. It's a great answer, because food is the basic of survival of for people. So it's any if you don't have soil, then you're not going to have survival. So it's it's a very good point. was there anything that I didn't ask you about that you had been hoping to talk about? Well, this is just want to talk about the people. Who grows the you know, let be good, is a the the I'm talking about the young people and the youth, you know, and and it's a phenomenon that I witness day in, day out the last twelve years, and my experience in agriculture is there is this big movement of young people. They want to make a difference in the world and I can see them come into the farm every year and they're so...

...talented and it is so the from a diverse background, you know, like, like some of them are university graduate in journalism, their physicist, you know, like and and then and they you know, like just their quality of work and the way they are dedicated to grow this food. It's for me, it's it's fascinating to watch. So sometimes, you know, we don't, you know, thank them enough, you know, like, and I would really like the and like the food is not like we can see food everywhere in the stores and how ship from abroad and stuff like this, but the story of how to grow the food is the most like, in my opinion, and like like under like it's not told enough at the untold story and we really need to talk about those young people who are working almost ten hours a day or eight hours a day, hot like forty degrees. Sometimes there's a canny quil and heat we cannot unsupportable, and so so I just like to tow always acknowledge that amazing work and for me they are my heroes, you know, like, and I'm always fascinating to see them and they're the one who's actually built the job and carrier and they are the one who finished from here to three years and they went and founded their own farms and they're all over Canada and some of them now they are NBC and all the Vancouver and there manager of some of the amazing farms and VC, some of them in the states and so on. But we're very please to applaud those young people and to always welcome them into our farmers farming community. Now it isn't that wonderful? That's a great, great note to end on. Thank you very much for your time, Ram see. It's fabulous to discuss the future of field with you. My pleasure and thank you, racy. Thank you for listening to an apologetically Canadian. Please consider supporting our podcast for undred and ninety nine a months joint select listeners and get additional episodes every month.

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